Republican Ken Cuccinelli announced his plans for K-12 education reform Tuesday morning, as he continues his campaign for the state's highest office. But some very vocal stakeholders say the plan will funnel more money away from public schools and into private education.
On the surface, Cuccinelli's proposals mirror many of the ideas others - including his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe - support. Those ideas include improving Virginia's Standards of Learning, encouraging STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and bolstering early childhood education. But some of the specifics are drawing criticism.
Cuccinelli's plan puts a lot of emphasis on what he calls "school choice." That includes removing barriers for establishing charter schools, and providing more tax credits for private education. But Virginia Education Association - the state's largest teacher's union, which endorsed Terry McAuliffe back in April - says those ideas deserve an "F."
Cuccinelli says his first course of action would be to establish a commission of stakeholders, which he calls the APPLES commission, to review Virginia's Standards of Learning and recommend how to improve them by November 2014. To lift up failing schools, he wants to establish the so-called "Parent Empowerment and Choice Act."
"It would authorize a majority of parents of students who are attending a failing school to petition for one of four reforms," said Cuccinelli.
That means a majority of parents could close a school down, replace school leadership, turn it into a charter school, or attend public or private schools elsewhere - something that concerns Virginia Education Association President Meg Gruber.
"I think Attorney General Cuccinelli is really more concerned with taking public dollars and putting them into private entities, whether they're charters or private schools," said Gruber.
Gruber's organization has long been at odds with Cuccinelli, dating back to his time in the General Assembly. The VEA endorsed his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe at its convention in April.
She says Cuccinelli's plans will further reduce funding for public schools already scraping by.
"It's kind of this knee-jerk reaction to me that, if it has the word 'private' in front of it, it has to be better. And I don't think that's the case," said Gruber.
In response, the Cuccinelli campaign blasts back at the Virginia Education Association, saying: "It's a shame that those responsible for representing the individuals who teach our children to read and count have applied those skills so poorly in analyzing the attorney general's pro-growth jobs plan. By instituting a cap on government growth and eliminating special interest tax loopholes Virginia can cut taxes for businesses and families without any reduction in funding for our schools."
The Charlottesville-based Virginia School Boards Association declined to comment on any specific proposal in Cuccinelli's plan, but said it is pleased the candidates are actively discussing education issues. Read the full statement below.
To read Terry McAuliffe's education plan, click here.
Virginia School Boards Association's full statement:
"We are pleased to see General Cuccinelli released his K-12 education
plan today. We encourage both candidates to continue to talk about
this important topic, on ways to close the achievement gap and provide
a high-quality education for students in every corner of the
Commonwealth. The more details each candidate releases about their
education agenda, the better informed our school board members will be
for the November elections. Here at the Virginia School Boards
Association, we hope to engage both campaigns in a dialogue about the
future of education in Virginia."